REVIEW: Gray Apocalypse by James Murdoch
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In this tale of human survival and personal redemption, an alien species is positioning an enormous asteroid to strike planet Earth, eradicate the human race, and replace mankind with millions of hybrid alien creations. A flawed but determined hero, Michael Kendon, steps out of the ranks of humanity to confront the alien Goliath.
PROS: The plot is interesting and clever in places.
CONS: The author cannot seem to get out of the way of his own story.
BOTTOM LINE: The plot ticks, the exposition is thick, the characters are not, and the reader investment is nil. But the cover is still very catchy indeed.
It was the cover, and the title, which made me want to read Gray Apocalypse, even before I knew anything about the premise and the story. It was compelling, in the way that simple coves sometimes are. I was looking forward to it when it arrived.
In the novel, aliens have indeed been visiting Earth. At first, they worked with human governments and set up secret facilities (that’s Area 51 to you, bub) and promised to give humanity advanced technologies and cures for diseases. But in reality, they’ve been breeding aliens and humans together to create a hybrid species which they will use to populate the Earth. And before they populate the Earth, they’re going to wipe all of us off it, with a massive asteroid that they’ve been nudging onto a collision course with us. We’re doomed in about three days, unless a former assassin, a doctor, an astronomer, and a school teacher, can save us.
That’s how the book kicks off, and it wastes no time at all getting into the action and plot. And as the action and plot are happening, the book is an addictive and enjoyable read. The action scenes are well drawn and don’t get too tedious, and they remain clever. The plot ticks along at a good pace and brings you with it.
Unfortunately, the book has a big problem which stops its interesting plot and nice action scenes from really winning over the reader. The big problem is that simply, the author cannot get out of the way and let the story happen.
There are too many long, expository areas in which the characters are doing something like driving, or looking at a happy family, or falling asleep…and their doing this simple action is cause for us to have paragraphs and pages of them ruminating about their own pasts, their plans, how they wish they’d had a family like that, and so forth. Unfortunately, there’s nothing particularly compelling about these long dollops of information. They typically end with a resolve to continue on the character’s mission with renewed resolve…but it wasn’t a resolve you knew they were questioning before they renewed it. It makes the long spaces between action sequences and plot-twists rather tedious to get through.
The problem appears again in another form, when the characters start getting together. Unfortunately, none of the characters feel like well-drawn people; they are more or less identical talking heads who say things to further the plot. And, when they are together and doing a mundane task (like driving, which two of them do at one point), then it turns into a long expository scene in which one character merely provides prompting dialogue for the other character to expound on his or her biography.
This isn’t forbidden, it’s just got to be interesting in a book when it happens. And part of the problem, as I said, is that there is really no discerning between one character and the next. There is little difference between the Doctor whose father created the Earth’s weapon of last defense…and the man, living on Puerto Rico. They speak the same. There are neither speech, nor character, tics or traits.
This brings down the good points of the book, in that you find yourself in action sequences, but with no emotional investment in whether or not the characters survive. And it is a shame, because you can see the glimmers of some really clever writing, when the action picks up and the writing gets moving. It just slows back down too soon, too much, for too long.
Gray Apocalypse may honestly appeal to some readers with different tastes than me. If you really enjoy plot-heavy books where the mission, the plot, is the main detail and everything just ticks along as that unfolds (a Da Vinci Code sort of book, if you see what I mean?) then you might really enjoy it. Beyond that, I don’t know. I had a strong hunch that it was James Murdoch’s first novel and, flipping to the back cover, I found out I was right. And since it’s his first, there’s always the chance that he’ll just get better and better. And I do hope so, because he does have some strengths.
In conclusion: the plot ticks, the exposition is thick, the characters are not, and the reader investment is nil. But the cover is still very catchy indeed.
Filed under: Book Review
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